Thursday, December 16, 2010

School Support Staff

At the three buildings that make up The Kaust School - the early childhood, the elementary, and the secondary schools - we have support staff who clean, repair, adjust the freezing air conditioning, and serve lunch to all students and faculty. The staff is make up of people from the Philippines and several countries in South Asia. A committee of teachers organized an appreciation lunch today for all of the staff, including faculty members who wanted to come too. Teachers prepared food and students helped serve and clean-up. It was a lot of fun to have these members of our school community sit and eat lunch with teachers and students. They all do so much for us and we are so grateful.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

KAUST coming into focus

First it was one girl who had previously been with our girls-only program, but now a member of the co-ed 7th grade group that I teach has joined the after-school math group. She had questions about some of the math problems I'd assigned for recent home work and wanted some help after school. A minute later another girl, a classmate, joined her. She'd been out that day visiting the dentist, and, though she could barely talk and was certainly in pain with a visibly swollen mouth, she too wanted to come after school for math help. They came together, and pretty soon we were discussing the nuances of fraction-based word problems, the kind that could trip up most any student, non-native English speaker (as the case was) or not.

Then two ninth grade boys, also my students, walked in, asking for help, and pretty soon I had word problems flowing on one side of the classroom, on the main whiteboard, and algebraic equations using the midpoint formula going up on the side board. Finally, two more students walked in, neither one of them a student of mine, but both in search of math help. They had a crossword puzzle involving math terms, and when I told them that crossword puzzles were absolutely the best things in the world and that math crosswords were the best of the best, they chose to stay.

Now what is amazing about this entire, spontaneous gathering is that all six students were Saudi - which is to say that none of them are native English speakers and a number of them had never had instruction in English before arriving at KAUST. Rather, here were students who could barely speak a word of English 14 months ago when KAUST School opened its doors, now reflecting on some fairly sophisticated problem-solving or terminology, and they were doing it on their own time, after school!

At one point I looked up as each group was working through its particular challenge, and I briefly stopped them to let them know how amazing this all was. Were it me, for example, and had I suddenly been immersed in an entirely different school system using a wholly different language with a set of fairly demanding teachers and a tough curriculum, I'm not sure I would have had the courage, let alone the ability, to stay after school barely a year later and carry on with learning the way these students were.

Saudi Arabia is a land of immense gifts, and KAUST is a result of one man's vision of an educational path this country could take. If you could capture in one classroom what this vision is beginning to look like today, you might look no further than the room I was fortunate enough to be in yesterday. Education may be a gift, but it's one you have to earn, and these kids were clearly there making the most of what is obviously becoming a unique, powerful, and instructive life experience for all, students and teacher alike. Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Taj Mahal by Logan

A new blog entry by Logan,

"When I was little, I thought the Taj Mahal was some other building."

age 6
12 November 2010

Thoughts on Contemporary India

A week hardly does justice to a place as large, varied, and storied in amazing history and culture as India is, but that was all we had, and so I planned accordingly. Only the very brave or woefully naive undertake an Indian vacation completely on their own, and so within a few weeks of launching preliminary research I'd (Jennifer leaving all arrangements to me on this trip) zeroed in on a private tour group that came with a long list of satisfied customers from across the globe, a few of whom I contacted directly by email, just to be sure.

The tour group, Trinetra Tours, turned out to be an amazing find. They came up with the Delhi-Tiger/Game Preserve-Jaipur-Agra, seven-day itinerary, furnished us with a van, a talented driver, varied and welcoming hotels, and a knowledgeable guide at every stop. They also met us, and later dropped us off, at the brand new Indira Ghandi International Terminal in Delhi, just completed for the recently concluded Commonwealth Games. Indeed, it was the getting to and returning from India, the only part that Trinetra didn't organize, that proved the most problematic in our overall expedition. One thing is for sure: The Evans family will never be taking Air India again!

And how was India? Amazing, complex, rich, poor, serene, bustling, ultra-modern, ancient, Hindu, Muslim (and Jain, Sikh, Buddhist ...), anglophile, or Hindi-speaking, or both, high-tech, menial, and much more. "Contrast" is a word that constantly describes India and all that is Indian.
We found Delhi almost overwhelming. I had left there 37 years previously, which is to say 10 million inhabitants ago. Although we spent a good chunk of one morning driving around my old neighborhood, we couldn't find the house. Too much had changed, and I couldn't get my bearings since the field across the street from where I thought I'd remembered living - then an impromptu cricket field that doubled as a pyrotechnical display lot during any Hindu holiday, festival, or wedding - had disappeared.

In a similar rapid evolution, when I took Jennifer and the boys to see the school my sister and I attended in late elementary and middle school years, I found a place again all but unrecognizable. The field locations and sizes indicated that it must be the same campus, but each building had been completely redone, and the campus, like the city, had dramatically increased its building density, its in-fill. Everything looked vaguely familiar yet wholly dissimilar to what I'd envisioned. Logan, true to form, jumped right into a recess game with kids his age, on the very same field where a Presidential Fitness Test during
my 6th grade PE class first gave me a nascent sense of athletic identity. It remains a wonderful institution, and, to a person, each adult we briefly chatted up had great things to say about the school. Yet Delhi, at 14 million folks officially and probably more like 16 million unofficially, is beset with all the attendant problems of any city that might be located in a country not yet 65 years old undergoing such rapid change. The vestiges of the British Raj and the Moghul Empire remain and still variously define, but Delhi is so rapidly, sometimes painfully, changing that urban planning must be a huge challenge at every turn.

One of the best unintended consequences of our tour hinged on Trinetra Tour's inability to get us first-class rail tickets out of Delhi. Instead, we were accommodated on the world's largest rail system, with 1.5 million employees, in the next class, and in the sleeper section, even though we, unlike most, would not be taking the train to its Mumbai (Bombay) terminus 1400 km down the track. The sleeper car we found ourselves in those four hours provided a rich, largely unadorned tableau of upper middle-class Indian life. We were the only non-Indians on any of the cars the boys and I walked through, and yet at every turn individuals and families were happy to see us and were especially friendly toward the boys. If Istanbul is remembered by Logan and Hayden for the cheek tweak, then India has become equally legendary for the hair pat. Many folks, young and old, gave the boys a loving tap on their blond heads, with more than a few quite eager to crowd them into spontaneous family photos. At the Taj Mahal Logan was so highly sought out for group pictures that I thought it would be hilarious to set up a stand and rent out the boys for just this service - "Here's the picture of Shah Jahan's unparalleled homage to love, and, oh yeah, here is our adopted American son..."

In the end, we saw the Moghul triumphs in Delhi, Jaipur, and, of course, Agra, and soaked up whenever we could an increasingly ubiquitous middle- and upper middle-class contemporary Indian culture. I was astonished at the scope of change made largely possible by arguably the world's largest middle class in easily its largest democracy. India was indeed abuzz, having just hosted the Commonwealth Games and then, just a few days prior to our arrival, a lengthy (by US presidential standards) visit by President Obama. It was not difficult to notice that India is ascendent, excited about its future, especially in IT and related fields.

Yet it was also easy to see an India often challenged by mostly unchecked population growth and a natural environment struggling with omnipresent and consequent human pressures. Interestingly, most of the Indians we spoke with acknowledged the role of the British in their current success. Three generations of humanity later, and counting, can make the heart grow fonder, as can beating them in the Commonwealth Games. But it is also unescapable that 200 years of British influence has left defining treasures and practices, in education, transportation, law, government, and many other contemporary Indian institutions, and many Indians are now grateful for this legacy. I found this especially interesting, my family having originally moved to Pakistan in 1958, barely a decade after India and Pakistan were essentially wrenched apart at their very birth as nations and weaning from the British, and a time still quite raw and recovering from some of the more unfortunate aspects of protracted colonialism.

Most of all, Indians undoubtedly compromise one of the largest and fastest growing English speaking populations in the world, which doesn't do US interests any harm, and may end up doing quite a bit deal more. Certainly, President Obama wasn't there just to further open up the trade channels, regardless what the papers and websites say. My guess is that China was Topic A of discussion, with P.M. Singh and Pres. Obama acknowledging that now is as good a time as any to be particularly in tune with each other. Pakistan, and by extension Afghanistan, remain nettlesome for them, and India's imbroglio that is Kashmir remains a sticky point for us, but China's regional/global aspirations are so unambiguous by now to all those paying attention (which those two leaders certainly are) that an Indian/American rapprochement was perhaps inevitable. Necessity begets alliance. We will see what becomes of all this, and how our two countries increasingly collaborate, or not, in the future, but it was certainly a momentous time to be visiting a country that plays second fiddle less and less for anyone and has arrived as a serious geopolitical power in this world forever being redefined.

Thanks for reading, David

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the Road ... in India

We recently enjoyed a trip to Delhi, India, during the Muslim Eid holiday. One of my most vivid memories will always be the sights along the road as we went from Jaipur to Agra and back to Delhi. I wrote the following while in the car during our journey:

The competent driver hired by Trinetra Tours drives us from Jaipur to Agra and then back to Delhi, smoothly maneuvering the Toyota around cows blithely sauntering across the bustling road. Pigs wander and root through all manner of garbage with piglets following some distance behind. Water buffalo stand across a lane of the road, thoroughly unmoved by the human chaos. Camels, with heads proudly held high, regally saunter along the dusty streets, apparently unaware of the attached cart piled high with goods and perhaps a brightly-scarved woman or a lean man with legs folded neatly underneath himself. All manner and types of dogs run, play, eat, and sleep on or along the road, assuming that all other species will pass right by, until they don't.

On the new highway, which offers two lanes in either direction and a median in the middle, I see motorcycles laden with towering boxes of goods of all kinds or with an entire family of 4-5 people. I observe bicycles progressing slowly. On one occasion when we were stuck in interminable traffic heading back towards Delhi, Hayden looked out the window and said, "Mom, that guy on the bike is going faster than we are." I worry about fast, crazy buses and slow-moving trucks with burlap bulging in all directions looking nearly to burst and spew lentils, perhaps, all over the drivers and riders surrounding. In the median breaks, drivers enter the highway from another road, never looking back once, and pedestrians stop to talk to friends on bikes, one or the other partially in the road. I notice crouching women along the median in the road, painting white along the median curb. We come to one sign which mostly blocks the highway, forcing all drivers to slow and slalom around the two-part sign with a u-turn arrow indicating an advertisement for some restaurant or shop the driver may just have missed. We come to an unmanned police check-point with a large painted word, STOP, and a speed bump. I look ahead and see a safari jeep coming our way, on our side of the road, in our lane, towards us! I see an old man carefully crossing the road with his rickety bicycle. I look up ahead again, and now there is a brightly painted and decorated truck heading directly towards us. Our driver easily moves to other lane. Honking his horn all the time. No sweat.

Along the side of the road, with the dogs, cows, pigs, and water buffaloes, I notice many goatherders working their goats along
the road, miraculously keeping them all together. I wonder why I never see goat on any menus? Cows abound, as do pigs, and yet most Indians, I understand, are vegetarians. Hinduism prohibits the killing or eating of cows; Muslims are not permitted to eat pig. And yet, here these animals abound. Is it religion? Or culture? Or is it because people see these animals searching through all manner of rubbish and choose other options?

We are so grateful for the amazing skills of our driver and the sights that we see enroute. More to come ...

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Friday, November 5, 2010

Math Club at Harbor Secondary School

One of the pleasures of teaching math is being able to extend the subject on occasion, beyond the curriculum, in order to demonstrate a few of its myriad applications. Currently, perhaps nowhere is this more easily done than through the math club, an after-school activity that meets once a week and appears to be bringing together a polyglot of students, boys and girls, 6th - 12th grade. At one practice a few weeks back, we had a record 16 students show and, so far this year, we've been averaging about a dozen students per session. Three were Saudi girls from our school's all-girls program, the first time more than one from the girls' program had ever shown up for practice. Even though these girls attend our school, most of their classes are held in an isolated part of the building, and I so far have taught only co-ed or all-boys classes, so they might as well have been from a different campus.

As the practice session began and I saw the students - Saudi, Palestinian, Finn, Indian, American, Jordanian, German (with occasional guest appearances of Chinese and American graduate students from the university!) - tackle the first few problems, it suddenly grew clear to me that there were a few transcending themes evident. One, naturally, was the use of the English language. For many of the students before me, if you were to go back just slightly more than a year, and sometimes less, you'd find them in schools where instruction wasn't in English. Yet here they were, mixed and matched, using English to not just communicate, but to communicate often complicated ideas to each other efficiently, which is to say rapidly and accurately - the mainstays of a good math club member! The second theme was the language they were perfecting: math. If English is the lingua franca of instruction at our school, then math is arguably its subject analog. Like all knowledge today, math as a subject and technical language is profoundly and increasingly international in its scope, and so here I was watching a rich soup of nationalities hone analytic skills, tackling problems in much the same way they'd be approached in a classroom in Accra, Manila, or Frankfurt, say.
It's a quick 50 minutes each week, but in that time I've seen kids' eyes light up with new ideas, approaches, techniques, often evoking a quick smile or "aha!" moment, the kind that makes every teacher's day and keeps us, students and teacher, coming back for more. And so we will, me with a few more problems meant to provoke and stretch, (and with homemade banana bread or shortbread in hand to fire up those young minds!), and they with their boundless energy and enthusiasm, continuing a journey of inquiry possibly without limit... to use a math term!

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Teaching English

For those of you who know me as a teacher, I am a constant editor. Secretly I edit menus and signs and notices. I correct my sons' speech and their friends' speech and, most avidly, my students' speech. Yesterday while in the library after school, ostensibly there to assist students with homework needs, several of my students started intentionally speaking incorrectly so that their names would go on the daily and somewhat humorous list of students who repeatedly make simple grammatical or spelling errors on topics already discussed and practiced. It went like this...

R: I did really good in science today, Ms. Evans.
M.E. You did what??
V: I had a good math test. Wait, that sounds correct...
M.E. That's because it is correct. You can have a good test, but you cannot do good on something.
V: I did a well job.
R: Hey, look I wrote 'alot' as one word.
M.E. I guess your name will go up three times.
R: Good.
V: Me too! Is my map badder than his map?
M.E. Clearly, I will have to create a bunch of boring worksheets for you all to practice your English.
R: Well, I won't do them.
M.E. I bet your dad would be interested in know about that.
R: I already speak good. (Smiling!)

These two boys were simultaneously teasing with me, doing science homework, and playing a game of chess. Another boy was working on his world map for humanities class which I thought was due today, but I was immediately corrected. It's due on Tuesday. Whew. I love middle school kids, and I know that they can speak correctly if they can intentionally speak incorrectly just to bug me!

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Logan's life perspective

This is Logan's perspective on life in nutshell ...

Mom asks, "Logan, what is your favorite country that you've been to?"

Logan answers, "Probably whichever one I'm in [at that moment]."

He's a live in the moment kind of guy!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Passage to India

Many of you have followed the tangled tale of the Commonwealth Games, held in India these past 15 days, ending Oct. 15. For some who know India, the games' "too little, too late" attempt at holding a well-organized and safe series of athletic competitions for thousands of athletes from the former British colonies only confirms the paralyzing administrivia which serves as a debilitating anchor to so much that happens in a country with such promise. Here's our family's version of the story.

A few months back we were debating where to travel on the November Hajj break. We know that we are blessed while at KAUST to be able to travel to so many places and share so much of the world with our boys, but we won't be here forever, and so each vacation choice becomes more important as time passes. Our September trip to Istanbul was quickly approaching and, from what we were hearing and what we certainly discovered, Istanbul is a tough act to follow when looking for a great family vacation.
India is almost equally close, and my family spent nearly a decade in Asia's subcontinent while I was a baby in Pakistan and later a young boy in India. I very much wanted to share with my own family a bit of the amazing country that is the world's largest democracy and one of its fastest growing economies. In part, I was curious to see what I remembered from those halcyon years of late elementary school in Delhi, but I was also very curious to see how India had changed. We'd even flown over India a few times getting to Thailand, each time musing; in the end, her appeal was too much to resist.
Finding flights and a top-notch, Delhi-based trip planning group was easy, but then came the process of actually getting the visas required to enter the country. Mind you, Americans rarely have to acquire visas to visit countries or, if they do, the visas are usually the token kind, acquired at little price during transit through the airport upon arrival in the country. Not so, India. The world's second most populated country requires visas for all, and there's no "Get out of jail free card" for anyone who may claim to have lived there and loved the experience.
KAUST is blessed with a government affairs office, and it was the folks there that we soon turned to since, as many of our friends attested, they could do wonders in helping us get visas and sort out all sorts of details related to travel. Except, as it turns out, in the case of India. Apparently, India won't allow a "handler" to process visa applications, potentially saving us the oft-dreaded trip into Jeddah. Instead, the visa applicants for India are kindly requested to appear in person at the Indian consulate in Jeddah. On a workday. Only between the hours of 9 - 12. Which really means 9:30 - 11:30, or so we were told. And get there early, we were also told, the line can be epic. We were also told to bring the following:
  1. Our passports
  2. Copies of our passports
  3. Our iqamas (work permits for the Kingdom)
  4. Copies of our iqamas
  5. Completed two-page visa applications for each traveler
  6. Two passport-size photos for each traveler
  7. Letter of employment and good standing at work for Jennifer and me
  8. Three months of bank statements
  9. Our itinerary - including hotels booked during stay, flights
  10. 298 SR per person traveling (about $80 each)
Last Monday, I deftly combined two medical appointments in Jeddah with this increasingly convoluted search for the holy grail, I mean Indian visas. The medical offices, as only Indian karma would have it, were conveniently located only blocks away from the hospital I had my doctor appointments in, so, as soon as my first medical stop was done, I raced out the back of the hospital, flagged a taxi (driven by a Pakistani, mind you) and was dropped off next to India's Jeddah consulate. Only I was inconveniently on the wrong side of the road, and the traffic was a continuous stream of honking, speeding, swerving vehicles, which is to say it was vintage Jeddah. Finally, after minutes of waiting and a quick mental review of my KAUST injury and dismemberment insurance, a miracle in the form of another man wanting to also cross appeared and in an instant - during which time I held my breath and my heart stopped - we'd made it across. I strode now confidently into the main entrance of the consulate, only to be kindly told by the officer on duty that, yes, the consulate's visa application office is directly across the street where I had just been. More heart palpitations ensued, soon followed by another "blocker" (my way of vicariously enjoying American football season while in KSA), and within seconds I was once again confidently striding up the stairs to the offices I'd been directed to.
The tip-off should have been the lack of a line and the plethora of civil servants with few apparent tasks in each of the offices I walked by, including the one I was directed to enter. In true Indian style, the civil servant I addressed said they could process visas, just not American visas since "our software is for some reason currently rejecting all American visa applications." Trying to smile back, I joked that I was from Seattle, home of Microsoft, and that if there was anything I could tell Bill Gates I'd be deeply honored, to which he replied that, alas, it was Indian software, not American. He then had me come over to a window and, pointing down the street, identified a business that "should" be able to help me with the visa applications. Of course, it was across the dreaded street.
A minute later, having now become rather brazen in my street-crossing techniques, I entered the business that would be the putative solution to our visa application problems. A man looked up from a counter and, in an offhand manner, took a look at me and said, "I hope you're Canadian because if you're American our office for that is down the road." I gave a quick "thanks" and sped off down the road, grateful that at least I didn't have to cross the gauntlet behind me, but increasingly suspicious of the wild goose chase I seemed to be on. I was also getting more and more nervous about making my second doctor's appointment with a bus trip home now looming.
Fortunately, the third time was a charm. A very pleasant Indian man showed me to a seat by his desk, asked me for about 20% of the documents Jennifer had prepared from the above list, but then informed me that the visas could be picked up after 5:30 the next day. I tried to plead, saying that we lived 100 km away, and that taking time off from work was next to impossible. I even casually mentioned that I'd lived in India as a boy and that our family had deep respect for his country. No matter. I then asked if another person could pick up the passports the next day and, like music to my tired ears, he replied, "But of course, sir." This is where the folks at government affairs could come to the rescue, or so I thought.

But it wasn't quite that simple. You see, there was this one little detail on my visa application, and brazenly printed on my passport, that the Indian consular folks took exception to, as I suspected they might. Later that night, my cell phone rang, which it rarely does, and as I approached it, trepidation crept into me, because I knew what it was probably about. It was the man processing my visa, and clearly in the background were a number of Indian men - perhaps a committee voting thumbs up or down on my application to visit their country? You see, if there is one thing that rankles most Indians it is a connection, however attenuated, to Pakistan, and I, as luck would have it, was born in Karachi, largest city in their archenemy's state. He assured me that he would do everything he could to explain my family's reason for living in Pakistan way back when, and I also asked him to remind the folks at the consulate that I'd lived in India, by the way, and after Pakistan, by the way, and that we'd loved India, by the way. And then I hung up the phone and worried myself sick that night, thinking how, in this amazing hurdle race that was trying to get visas to visit India, an event beyond one's control, from so long ago, and with no relation to the current problems between the two countries, was going to nullify my family's hopes of visiting the country.
But the fateful call that would have destroyed our plans to visit this amazing country never came through, a kind KAUST government affairs officer picked up our passports (now with Indian visas proudly displayed) and, now in less than four weeks, we are fortunate to be able to travel to India.
Thanks for reading, David

Friday, October 8, 2010

Teaching Middle School

As a middle school teacher, I often get comments from people about how brave I must be to teach these rather strange pubescent beings, but I am not. I just have fun in class! When I imagine teaching five year olds, I nearly cringe at the thought (though I do love the age as a parent), so I guess I can understand how we each must find our calling as teachers. I am not brave, just comfortable with them at this point in their lives of being between little kids and young adults. They are funny!

Last year, we as a school did not fully appreciate the incredible span of abilities we would have in terms of English language, so we grouped all students together in the secondary school for all subjects. Needless-to-say, it was not particularly successful for many. This year, we have split native English speakers (or those who are very proficient) from students for whom English is brand new or an early second language (duh!), and this has been remarkable, in my opinion, in our classes. I am really having fun teaching again and I can better help my students where they are.

I teach grade 7 English and humanities to students who are very proficient in English. They are a hilarious, dynamic, and interesting group. Coming from the Philippines, Malaysia, England, Canada, Egypt-America, India-America, they each bring their own experiences into our class. I teach them about writing and let them launch into their own writing experiences, having them share with each other daily, and I am lucky to get to know them well this way. I read their stories about moving to Saudi Arabia, about saying goodbye to friends, about childhoods, about mischief they caused, about their families, and about their trips. They are just at the point of developing their own voices as writers. We also talk a lot about books, recommending them to each other and reading some books together to learn how to discuss literature. Last year I taught this class too, but in the class I also had kids who had never spoken a word of English. It was so hard to serve the students well with such a vast spread in abilities. I guess this year is better because one boy said, "You are much more interesting this year." The students who are learning English as a second language are in another class where they are also thriving, learning at their pace.

In addition to grade 7 English and humanities, I teach grade 6 English as a second language and humanities to those same 6th graders. These students are nearly all Saudi, but I have also Palestinian, Egyptian-German, Ukrainian, French. They too are working so hard and we also have fun in class. They make so much progress in their learning from week-to-week, and it's encouraging for them. Most of the class came up from the elementary school where they had some excellent instruction in organization, language, homework-doing, and expected school behavior. They are also fun to teach, willing to participate and learn, and funny as well. They help each other and tell on each other, translate if possible for each other, and borrow more books from the library than any other group. Our librarian has ordered many many graphic novels, which are stories that combine mostly illustrations with some words, and my 6th grade students love them!

I think we are off to a good start this year! Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ubiquitous Turkish hospitality


Hospitality knows no limits when it comes to children, at least if you're in Istanbul, during an incredible weeklong vacation over Eid holiday. I suppose it helps if your toe-headed children look a bit different than most, and that your western-ness might represent that next carpet sale, or sold meal, or hawked trinket. Nevertheless, the friendliness and accessibility of the Turks was on display everywhere we went, and our boys were very often the ice breakers to conversations or at least pantomimed interactions that might have not occurred otherwise.

Logan had to suddenly go to the bathroom one day while we were walking around Sultanahmet, our hotel's locale while in Istanbul and also the location of the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. Although WCs were around in some public areas, of course at this very moment I couldn't immediately see one, and so we quickly ran to a restaurant we'd patronized a few days earlier, hoping that the staff would remember us. It was as if we'd never left, and while I waited for Logan the manager told me that in Turkey old folks and little children are always accommodated
in similar situations.

The day before we'd walked through a section of town particularly packed with carpet showrooms, and at each storefront the owner of slowed us down, made conversation, patted our boys' heads, and promised them apple tea if only their parents would abide them a sales pitch. One wonders how much tea and accompanying sugar cubes the boys could have downed if only our ability to say "no thank you" had been up to the task, but there is perhaps no one so capable and determined as an Istanbul carpet salesman, so we largely admired the most resplendent and luxurious carpets hanging in the front windows from the relative safety of the street, being sure not to pause too long at any one.

Logan decided to abide his father's interest in going to a Turkish Bath, and so one afternoon we went to a bath designed by arguably the most famous Ottoman architect of all time, Sinan (who lived more than 90 years, long enough to serve three successive sultans and design more than 50 incredible buildings all over the empire), which also happened to be in our neighborhood. Logan decided to let his dad be the guinea pig, and so he carefully watched while the masseur rubbed and then soaped me down, Logan all the while sweating away in his towel robe, perhaps summoning the courage to got next. Well, there wasn't much of a choice, for just as soon as the masseur was through with me he splashed clean the beautiful marble surface, patted the space I'd just vacated, and motioned Logan summarily over. I then carefully yet discretely watched from an adjacent cool-off room while our masseur lovingly gave Logan his first Turkish bath experience. I could tell the masseur enjoyed working on a young boy who didn't complain or squirm and, while he did, I watched as a number of the other masseurs looked up from their work to smile at Logan. Later that day I knew the experience had been a success when Logan asked me when we could go back again!

On our second to last day in Istanbul we decided to take a boat trip to the Princes' Islands, a string of islands in the Marmara Sea just off the coast of the Anatolian, or Asian, side of this city of 15+ million inhabitants, and the only city to straddle two continents. At the end of a full day, we got off the boat and instead of catching the shuttle back to our hotel, opted to walk along the waterfront a bit in hopes of finding a good seafood place for dinner. We made it about 30 yards down the dock before attempting to pass by a group of grizzled fishermen, apparently not long off their boats after bringing back the day's catch. These guys were just beginning to share a piping hot dish of baked fresh sardines with onions, tomatoes and savory spices, all dripping with the trademark Turkish olive oil. They were breaking apart huge hunks of fresh bread, and spooning up generous portions of the baked fish dish when they spied the boys and, instantly, we realized that we could not pass by without trying their culinary delight, which they were eagerly offering us. We each tried some of this divine local fare, but it was when the boys took their first mouth-fulls that the guys all broke into huge smiles and insisted that we share more. No need for a huge appetizer that night!

And finally, there was our tour of the spice bazaar, which included spices and sweets, for the eyes and tongue. Each time we went by a sweet vendor, the boys were plied with a cube of homemade Turkish candy, or taste of honey, or some such, often surreptitiously by a smiling vendor who proffered the candy while patting the boys' heads. In the final analysis, Istanbul was one, long, delectable treat for us, a first glance at a proud and varied country we now hope to return to.

Thanks for reading, David

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dad's "Great" Idea by Logan

Yesterday our family went to the Princes' Islands off the coast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara. We got off the boat on the second island and my dad had this "great" idea of renting bikes to ride around the island. Sounds fun, right? Well, as it turns out it was not as fun as we thought. My dad immediately started up a hill without realizing that my bike was so rickety and heavy and had no gears at all. My bike was heavier than the other three bikes together. My parents kept saying, "C'mon, Logan, try to keep up," but they didn't realize that my bike was so old that I had to pedal to go DOWN hill, and my bike tire had almost no air so when I biked along, I just bounced away all of my energy.

The other bikes were not so hot either. Hayden would be biking along, pedaling normally, when suddenly there would be a metal-on-metal screeching sound. Dad's bike always had the kickstand down, so we teased him that he would be safe if he fell. His bike had a sheared off front shifter and no front brakes. Mom's bike, called the "Corvette," could not shift any gears until Dad made her get off the bike while he lifted the back wheel up to "fix" the gears. After that, she had three gear options. Hayden had two to start but lost one after a short time. To shift from one gear to the other usually required a lapse time of about 10 minutes!

The stressful part of this family ride was that we had been allotted one hour in which to do the ride and make it back to the boat. The bikes gradually became slower and slower. We became panicked and I was so tired my legs felt like they would fall off! We finally did get back into the seaside town only to not be able to find the bike shop for which we had no name or address. We passed signs that said no biking but we had to bike in order to find the shop. We eventually got there and it took the owner several minutes to scrounge up Dad's Saudi driver's license and some change.

During our voyage to the islands, we learned that the Princes' Islands were used in part by Ottoman sultans as a place to banish their wayward sons. I think they had to ride old rickety bikes around the islands for the rest of time.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Hello all,

We are spending our Eid holiday in Instanbul, Turkey, and I must sadly admit that I did not really appreciate the amazing historical significance of this city until I visited. As the Roman Empire collapsed, one final emperor, Diocletian, foresaw weakness and split the Empire into western and eastern parts, thinking it would be easier to administer this way. Constantine ultimately ended up with the eastern part, which around 330 a.d. he centered in his new capital city, Constantinople, a city which became the center for the Byzantine empire - which was really the eastern part of the Roman Empire. The former and original glorious Roman Empire eventually collapsed, but the Byzantine Empire continued for hundreds of years and remained strong in Constantinople until the Ottomans finally defeated it in the 1450s. The Muslim Ottomans added minarets to some Christian churches and covered up images of Christ and scenes from the Bible, but they were generally tolerant, open, and accepting of other faiths, so groups of people flocked to libraries, mosques, and other public places to gather, study, learn, and talk, regardless of religious beliefs.

Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, boasts glorious mosques which are open to the public except during prayer time and vast Byzantine churches, many of which were later converted to mosques. Blue and white tiles decorate the interior of many mosques, conveying an aura of peace and tranquility. It is clear that this has been a city of diversity, openness, and tolerance - and it still is this way though Turkey continues to struggle with an outspoken minority group of 14 million Kurdish people for whom there is no government representation.

We sampled a Turkish bath experience - gender-separated scrubbing, soaping, and relaxing. We have enjoyed all kinds of food, particularly various kebabs, eggplant cooked so many ways, and tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese. We have walked, taken the public tram system (an on-street train system), tried ferries and local buses. Today we took a local ferry up the Bosphorus which connects the Sea of Mamara with the Black Sea. Who knew that Istanbul is the only city in the world that spreads across two continents - Asia and Europe? Most of Turkey is in Asia, but much of this city is in Europe. We also visited a medieval fortress today which was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 in order to stage the Ottoman's final (successful) assault on Constantinople. It was an impressive place with ramparts, steps, and walls on which to roam.

Ironically, we are visiting just at the same time as the world championships in basketball are being played - here in Istanbul. Last night was the final game - between the USA and Turkey! Who would have thought?! The US won and many Turks congratulated us with broad smiles today.

We have met friendly people who try to help us whenever possible and who beam with our basic attempts at Turkish; we have seen people genuinely reach out to our boys, patting their heads or cheeks and greeting them when possible; we have had carpet-sellers serve us tea and share their vast knowledge of carpets.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Monday, September 6, 2010

A New School Year

We are wrapping up our second week of our second year of school at The KAUST School (TKS). What a difference one year makes! Our students are more engaged, more prepared, and more ready to learn than last year; as teachers we can more readily understand their abilities and language limitations and progress over last year. All around it is a smoother, if tiring, first couple of weeks. Despite the fact that it's Ramadan, TKS started school as expected, supported and directed by the University. I have been impressed by how many students and families have committed to being at school in the middle of their holy month. They are showing their commitment to education in the midst of a special Muslim holiday. Ramadan comes to an end in a few days, and the Eid holiday will begin - where school will once again be closed (as will pretty much every thing else). We will head off on a short trip to Istanbul, Turkey, before returning for a full-on schedule and routine for most of the rest of the Fall.

Our kids have enjoyed getting to know several new kids from the United States and Canada, which makes their social relationships and friendships more familiar. They both seem to recognize that they have aspects to their lives here - freedom to bike around and play with neighbors - that they would not have so easily back at home. We have noticed in the last month that the weather has cooled slightly, and it's becoming more pleasant to sit outside at the end of the day while the kids play on their bikes. The pool water is perfectly chilled and the A/C in the school, though cold, is not as unbearable as last year. We are all well!

We hope all is well with all of you. Love to hear about your lives at home too!

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dee's visit to KAUST

I have been visiting the Evans family here in Saudi. It has been an incredible experience--one I will always remember and treasure. They have shared their lives, their work, and their friendships with me and I have met an incredible group of people from all over the world. They all bring their vision, their expertise, their knowledge and their enthusiasm for this unique project.
I have especially enjoyed being with Hayden and Logan and watching them grow, develop and learn to be friends for all nations, all people and all opportunities. I have felt appreciated and blessed to be in this community of leaders.
Thanks to them for sharing this with me.
Dee (Jennifer's Mom)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Homage to the Foreign Workers at KAUST

Having grown up in a foreign service family, I was early on exposed to some of the realities of expatriate life. However, working as my father did - as a diplomat serving the US government - or as my wife and I currently do - as educators serving a somewhat lavishly-funded project, hardly begins to conjure the experiences of the vast majority of people whose jobs take them overseas.

I have earlier commented on the tens of thousands of workers who for the past three years have worked on creating a major research university and campus out of the sands of coastal Saudi Arabia. As we drive north from Jeddah, the vast buildings and surrounding campus neighborhoods seem to rise out of the simmering heat like a Sphinx, a visual aberration in this largely empty, arid, hardscrabble land. As we get closer, and especially as we make our way onto campus and begin appreciating the vastness of the KAUST project, it suddenly dawns on us that undertaking anything of this magnitude on such short order could only have occurred through considerable, almost incalculable, human effort. It is usually about then that we begin seeing the workers, ubiquitous in every aspect of campus.

A school head I know once said that getting donors to pay for a new auditorium is glamorous, and therefore fairly easy. It's getting them to pay for the supporting infrastructure and the often underestimated long-term maintenance costs that makes the shiny new auditorium more of a reach for most institutions. Now imagine the maintenance and upkeep at a place like KAUST! Apart from the monetary costs, which I can't begin to fathom, there is the human cost, and on this count I'd like to express my deep gratitude to the men and women - primarily from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh - who largely made, and every day and night maintain, this huge and growing campus. These workers are part of a large trend worldwide - more than 200 million people now work outside their country of citizenship; in Dubai, just 1 in 5 is a citizen; 1 in 4 Filipinos works overseas; nearly 5 million Americans live, and often work, overseas.

Last week our plumbing had a hiccup, and so we dutifully called the prescribed number to have the problem addressed. In short order a skilled team from Asia's subcontinent showed up, readily attended to the problem, and then had us sign off on the work order. It was then that I discovered that the three workers were from Hyderabad, India, but that their boss was from Lahore, Pakistan. When I mentioned to the team that I'd spent a half a decade in India and Pakistan as a boy, the disbelief was obvious and the smiles were genuine. I agreed with all of them that Kashmir is about as close to heaven as you can get (carefully avoiding discussion of that ongoing regional conflict). Given the two countries' histories, I was impressed with how well the entire team worked together, and how proud they were of the their origins, our shared understanding. Yet in coming here we Evanses haven't said goodbye to spouses or our own children for as many as two years, or put off getting married, or signed up to live in spartan accommodations at considerably different pay, or work under often dramatically different circumstances It is these kinds of sacrifices, made by thousands, that have helped build KAUST, and we would just like to say thank you to these men and women.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hayden's Highlights from Camp

Dee Dee (My Grandma) and I just got back to KAUST late Sunday night. The first day especially I was really tired. I almost took a nap whenever I sat down. When I flew from Frankfurt to Denver earlier in the summer it took me only about a day to get fully adjusted to Colorado time. I was in Denver for 4 days until camp started. Then we drove the 2 hour long drive to Buena Vista, where A/U is. We got there at about 2:30. That afternoon I basically played Gockey and bounced on the tramp the whole time. Gockey is a version of mini hockey except they play with little hockey sticks and a squash ball. At first I was really bad. But because I kept playing and playing I soon got to be pretty good. That night the head of camp told us all the rules and things we should know about camp. The next day the mountaineers went up to the ropes course. I still think it was one of my favorite days at camp. We went on this awesome zip line where you were attached on by a carabiner. Its a good thing too because the zip line goes 25 feet up in the air. It is definitely the best zip line I've ever been on. A few days later the mountaineers went caving in some caves about a 45 minute drive away from camp. We had to hike a little ways to get to the mouth of the cave. The cave was really dark and dusty. We all either had flashlights or headlights. The caves aren't huge, but it was still really awesome. At one point we had to army crawl with our flashlights off. It was really freaky but really fun. When we were all done with caving we went back to the mouth of the cave to find that we were all completely covered in a thick layer of dust. A few days later we went to a place called Turtle Rocks. It is an outside climbing place across the valley. It was kind of shaped like a turtle. We did a few climbs, then we hiked up to the turtle's head. We had a pretty good view of the surrounding 14ers. The next activity the mountaineers did was climb Mt. Yale. It was a really fun 3 days. The first day all we did was hike up to a camp site at about 12,000 feet. The next day we got up really early and started hiking. We hiked the first 2 hours in total darkness. We peaked at about 10, having hiked uphill for 5 hours straight we were all very tired. On the way down we had to go through some hail. I got totally soaked even with a rain jacket on. The next day we hiked back down to the parking lot. Thank you so much for reading this!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gearing Up

We have been fairly enmeshed in the process of gearing up for a new school year. Teachers have all been meeting to work on units, advisory, attendance, planning ... As a new school in its second year, we have structures to get into place and decisions to be made to support the learning that we can provide. We are working on becoming approved as an MYP/IB school, so we have projects to do for that approval as well. School starts on August 28, but as it's right in the middle of the Holy Month of Ramadan, we will be missing many students who are either away or at home in Jeddah but unable to come to school. As a school, we have made a big push to encourage kids to come to school for these next two weeks of Ramadan and prior to the Eid holiday. The school day will be somewhat shortened to accommodate students who may be fasting and in honor of Ramadan. During this month of Ramadan, somewhat surprisingly, we have prescribed differences in required working hours for faculty and staff across the entire KAUST community, depending on whether a person is Muslim or non-Muslim. For an international community, I would have thought that all people would have the same working hours, shortened or not. Perhaps this is something that will be adjusted and/or equalized as time goes.

We have several new faculty and staff members for our growing student body - more from the United States than in the original group. It has been a pleasure to get to know the new members of our 'team'. They are a dynamic and talented group, who are working hard to learn so many new things and prepare for school too.

My mother and our son, Hayden, arrived a few days ago. They both looked happy and had gotten tremendous support and assistance at the airport from a KAUST representative who met them and helped them through immigration and customs. They are both struggling to adjust to the huge time difference between Colorado and Jeddah, but it gets better daily. It's very nice to be back together as a family - I missed that time. Hayden has matured a lot over his month away, including his two weeks at camp, and he seems confident and taller. Apparently, he wrote us a postcard from camp, but as we have not yet received it, I am so grateful that we had other ways to hear from him - phone calls and skype.

Hope for more blog posts soon. Perhaps even from Hayden. Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Home at KAUST

Logan, David, and I arrived safely back at KAUST last week after our amazing summer adventures. The three of us awkwardly careened through the Zurich airport with four large suitcases, three boxed bicycles, a guitar, three smaller backpacks, a bag of bread and cheese we could not bear to leave behind, and a computer bag. I saw people watch coming, quickly get out of the way, and look at their travel companions as if to say, "Geez, those people really need to learn to travel lighter." I suppose that could be true, but after five weeks away, we had things to bring back that we can use here at KAUST, particularly two new bikes to add to our growing collection - all of which get used.

Once the bags and bikes were checked for the plane (and paid for!), we proceeded to our gate. I was a bit apprehensive about getting everything securely back in Jeddah. The flight from Frankfurt was packed with pilgrims, mostly from England, coming to Mecca and Medina for the upcoming Holy Month of Ramadan. I gingerly sat next to a man draped in the traditional white pilgrimage outfit, trying not to disturb him, and was surprised when he immediately addressed me in Manchester-accented English. Enroute David and I ended up chatting with many members of his family about life in England and life in Jeddah. Originally from India, he and his wife were quite surprised to discover that David had been born in Karachi. Wonderful family who invited us to visit when we were in Manchester!

Upon arrival at the Jeddah airport, we made our way through immigration and waited for the bags, wandering between carousels as no one seemed clear as to which of the three would carry our flight's bags. Eventually, our suitcases came sliding down the conveyor belt and, just as I began to fret about the bikes, three large bike boxes slid down as well. Our KAUST taxi driver waited patiently, helped us load up everything into the van, and drove us home. It was nice to be home, to unpack, to relax, and to settle back in again.

We remain so grateful for our amazing summer adventures, for Hayden's awesome experiences at a mountain camp in Colorado and his continued new experiences, and for our safe return. We are eagerly anticipating Hayden and his grandmother's flight to Jeddah later this month so we can be all together as an Evans foursome again, to share stories and laugh about memories, and so we can host our first guest!

School starts on August 28. The campus is gradually slowing down and transitioning to night-time hours in preparation for Ramadan, which starts tomorrow. In fact, I have a medical appointment next week in Jeddah, where (except for 24 hour emergency service) the clinic hours are from 9 p.m. to early morning some time. Until now, I have never had an appointment at midnight. Could be interesting!

Thanks for reading. More soon, Jennifer

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Swiss Observations

As we come to the close of our amazing five week vacation, nearly all in Switzerland, I find myself pondering this amazing country. Certainly, five weeks does not make us Swiss or particularly clear on Swiss culture and history. We have observed so much here, though, which makes us so very appreciative of nearly all that Switzerland offers.

This is a country of efficiency - hundreds of trains come and go, on time, from hundreds of stations each day. Rarely are the trains late, and, if they are, announcements will let people know that the train will be arriving in 13 minutes or 23 minutes or whatever the expected new time. This is a country of constantly available fresh food - milk, cheese, bread, meats, salads, fruits, sauces, pastas, vegetables and fruits. Every meal matters - food always tastes good and fresh. Even at little train station food shops, we can find delicious, local yogurt, cheese, baguettes and bread, fruits and vegetables. Few chemically-created junk foods that you might find at a local corner store in the US. Meals also take a long time. Lunch or dinner, if eaten in a restaurant (rather than in one of the apartments we have stayed in), often takes one and a half or two hours. People sit and talk and eat and talk and eat. Few times have we see people eat on the run, as meals seem to be an enjoyable experience and part of the day. We have seen many families on outings together, going swimming, hiking, biking, playing; it helps that Switzerland has probably more nicely built, creative playgrounds per person than any other country. Quality of life seems to be quite a major component of living. We see many people eating meals with family and friends outside in the gardens, balconies, patios, or decks that are clearly a dynamic part of the integral living space.

I love the Swiss commitment to public transportation. Trains and buses traverse the country, reaching into remote valleys on narrow winding roads, using the horn as switchback turns are approaching. We have been able to get every where we wanted to go on trains or buses or bicycles. It certainly means fewer cars traveling around with just one or two people in them. Cars are very small, bikes are every where, trains leave frequently. We also have enjoyed the Swiss idea that on a hot day, lakes and rivers are part of the national playground. Just today, we joined many people swimming in Lake Zurich and later we discovered crowds jumping off bridges and the sides of a deep flowing river from Lake Zurich. Logan jumped on in with everyone else, quickly swimming to the ladder on the side. Should one miss the ladder, there are many others just short distances from each other down the river. It was truly a highlight!

The only aspect of this country that, in just five weeks, I have tired of is the incessant smoking. Since it's summer, people are out and about, eating at outdoor cafes and smoking. Everywhere we go, people are smoking - young and old, fit-looking or not, rich or poor, with children or not. Last night, we went to eat at an outdoor patio pizzeria. At one point, every sing
le table around us had at least one smoker. One table of four had four smokers. The saddest thing is the number of people with children who smoke right around them, allowing the smoke to drift into their babies' or toddlers' faces. It's hard to understand in a country of active outdoor people who bike and walk more than drive, who eat healthfully, who take care of their environment, and who appear the epitome of health and well-being. It's on my mind because I have been around more cigarette smoke here than nearly any other place. Despite this, our summer has been amazing fun, interesting, exciting, active, and memorable in every way. We have swum, hiked, biked, trained, and bused all around, enjoying Swiss hospitality and friendliness and appreciating frequent help from strangers when we, on more than one occasion, looked lost!

Missing Switzerland already! Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Monday, July 26, 2010


Greetings and apologies for long delays in updates,
We have had three fabulous weeks in Switzerland, actually nearly four by now, I think. Rather than detail the entire time, I will highlight each. One of the coolest aspects of Switzerland is the diversity from region to region. We started in the German Heartland near Interlaken; migrated to the Italian region of Ticino; took three days to visit Frankfurt, Germany, and see Hayden safely off to Denver; and now are in the French-speaking region between Lausanne and Geneva staying with friends.

Meiringen highlights: Excellent German/Swiss style pork, potatoes, and cheese. Lots of delicious ice cream and yoghurt. Two weeks with my parents who met us in Meiringen. Cable cars and gondolas to mountain summits where we hiked several kilometers across high ridges and down into different valleys. Bike rides for the Evanses family. Kids next door for Logan and Hayden to play afternoon soccer with. TV with final World Cup games. Learning some Suisse-Deutsch. Friendly people. Families on hiking and biking outings everywhere. Walking and biking taking precedence over cars. Swimming in Lake Lungern. The Jungfrau region. Hayden's big hike with David and my dad.

Lucarno in Ticino highlights: Pizza. Pasta. Gelato. The Italian region. Italian feel, language, culture. Bus rides to the end of a valley where we ate pizza and hiked back down on beautiful trails. Rock jumping into rivers. A fantastic apartment. A rented motorboat and swimming in Lake Maggiore. Laughter over dinner with the boys. A castle in Bellinzona. A cable car and chair lift to the top of a mountain, a long long hike up and down and back to a town, a one and a half hour relaxing, stress-free wait for the last bus into town.

Frankfurt, Germany. Hotel directly across the street from the train station which was extremely helpful for the Evans family who overpacked, assuming cooler weather when it's been incredibly hot, and who are traveling with two bikes. Amazing hotel breakfast, included. Seeing Hayden safely off to Denver. A hilarious restaurant which, though trendy, will not last a year. (It's this restaurant where you get a card upon arrival and stand in long lines to wait for people to order and watch food prepared until you finally order your pasta or pizza or salad, watch it get prepared while you are still hot and standing, 'charge' the meal to your card, and finally, wearily, retire to eat overcooked food. Why can't we just order from a person and sit down like a regular place?) An amazing museum of natural history! Wonderful German food in the old part of the city.

Morges, Switzerland. We are now staying with a friend of David's and another mutual friend joined us from the US. The beautiful home has a pool and a trampoline, so Logan is in heaven. This part of Switzerland is very French - language, food, and culture. Took Logan to a park yesterday where there are many many ropes courses for all ages and levels. He had a ball! David and his college friends are exploring the region by bike each day, some days actually starting before lunch!

This is an incredible country of diverse language and food, attention to detail and fine craftsmanship, awareness of the many aspects of the quality of a life as a broad range beyond just one's job, families and family outings, access and commitment to public transportation of all kinds. We realize that this is, perhaps, the vacation of a lifetime, but we have enjoyed every minute of one of the hottest summers, filled with adventure, life, and challenge. We appreciate the vibrancy of this culture, the many languages, the amazing foods, the love of the outdoors and the many ways to access it.

More soon. Jennifer

Friday, June 18, 2010

End of the Year Celebrations


The first year for Kaust School is officially over. Graduation happened for our two amazing senior boys, who have set the standards high as our first graduating class. Though friends, they are different from each other in their impressive talents and skills, and I think all of the teachers are proud that these two boys set standards high for future classes. We were blessed that they were the first. All tests, projects, and exams are over. Grades are mostly done. Teachers are working on final reports to be sent to parents at the end of the week. Awards and celebrations have occurred. The last day of school saw an array of emotions on the part of the students - many smiles, memories, and tears. We laughed about the fire alarms that went off the first day - and every day of the first week. We talked about how far we have come. We said good-bye to some students moving on. We acknowledged with awards the special abilities and strengths of some. It was a more touching and emotional last day than I expected. It's funny because students are so excited for school to end - and then it does and they don't want to leave. I suppose it's the work they are happy to have a break from rather than the relationships with friends and even teachers. I suspect that some will have little to do over the hot summer months; others will head home to other countries or travel.

We went to a large faculty/staff party last night to honor two couples from the founding administration team who are leaving. The first superintendent was only hired as an interim for this year, so he and his wife are heading home to the US. I like and respect him a great deal, as do many. I think he has a been a true advocate for the schools and for the teachers specifically. He will be missed a lot. He confronts issues when needed, but quietly, and he willingly and openly commends the strengths and gifts he sees in others. The other couple who is leaving is heading to Germany. The husband was in San Francisco doing the hiring when we went to the recruitment fair. He is a wonderful man, and we also really like and enjoy his wife, who has deftly managed the school where Logan goes - the early learning center. I will miss them a lot. Several of the kids acknowledged these adults on the last day of school and one said, "I don't really know what Mr. M does at our school, but he was always really friendly and nice to the students." Everyone laughed.

We have a full week of work this next week and then teachers are heading off for the summer. We will be here a little longer than this next week, doing some working projects, before we head to Switzerland to meet family there. We are excited for our vacation and travels.

More soon! Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Last Day of School

Greetings all,
We have been super busy, as you can imagine, finishing up classes, tests, grading, projects, grading, activities, grading. You get the idea. I am finished now with all projects, tests, and grading! One boy came up to me after class today - a boy who could not say anything in English on the first day of school - and he said, "Ms. Evans, a student in class always teased me that I failed on every test. Today I get a 6 and today she get 4. Today she quiet!" He smiled a mischievous smile and went to lunch. All year this boy has tried, then not tried, tried, then not tried. Nonetheless, he has learned so much this year. Another boy who was in a similar situation worked all through our final humanities class while we were playing a geography game; he completed his entire final test and did very well!

We will try to write more soon.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Birthday Celebration

A year ago we celebrated Hayden's birthday with his good friends in Seattle - eating and playing at Discovery Park. This year, Hayden has a new group of friends and many of them were able to join him for his birthday (though he misses and talks about his Seattle friends as well). We all met up at the secondary school to play basketball on the outdoor courts and tag on the playground, which was new for most of the kids who do not come to the secondary school often. Along with a lot of water, juice, and 7up, we ordered pizza to be delivered to the playground from the campus pizza shop, Pizza Inn. Later we headed to our house for chocolate cupcakes, more water, and a ping pong tournament. That evening Hayden said that the party had been awesome. If you have a group of boys, a ball or two, and a park or playground, you pretty much have a good, sweaty time. The boys were energetic, funny, and active. One of the coolest parts of our lives at the moment is the various nationalities and backgrounds of our kids' friends - Canadian, Filipino, American-Lebanese, Indian, South African, Ghanian-American, English ... Kids love to play - wherever they might be from - and they generally like pizza and chocolate too!

We are wrapping up our year. We have two weeks of school left, including final projects and tests and a lot of grading and report writing! School is done for the students on June 16, but we have one additional week of reports, meetings, and packing up for the summer. We are officially done on June 23. We will stay until June 29 when we head off for the summer.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Many of us remember paying nearly $4/gallon for gas a few summers ago. Not so here. At our sole gas station on campus, which we frequent about every three weeks, if that, gas is a whopping 70 cents per gallon. Our usual habit is to pull into the station on our motorbike, pop the seat to reveal the hidden gas tank, and then wait the 9.2 seconds it might take for the attendant to fill up the two-liter tank which, let's face it, is never actually empty. I'm usually embarrassed enough about spending so little that I often find myself silently praying for the tank to be suitably empty so that I can give the pump operator two riyals in order to tell him to keep the change. Never has a 70- 90% tip felt so good! Of course, this tip is a mere 25 cents or so, which may seem none too consequential to many of us but could really add up for the Indian or Pakistani citizen who most often fills our tank...
Indeed, campus is an odd juxtaposition of vehicles, from cyclists and their mechanical cousins like our small motorbike, to huge, hulking SUVs. Many families have purchased a vehicle, often large, for use while in Saudi Arabia. What many are finding, however, is that getting off campus and exploring the country is proving to be more the exception than the rule, and so most vehicles just sit, or else are driven a perfunctory quarter mile to the store or school once or twice a day, only to collect a veneer of dust in the driveway once home.
KAUST also provides a fleet of buses, and these understandably get most use before and after the school or work day, but seemingly very little use otherwise. Oddly enough, whether large or small, about the only thing most of these campus vehicles have in common is one occupant, or maybe two, much of their time in use.
So, while the U.S. continues to reel from the effects of its largest oil spill in history, with no end in sight, this part of the world, where oil is much more plentiful and vastly easier to drill, seems of another time, and certainly of a forgotten cost when it comes to anything related to purchasing energy. How will it all look in 50 years? Who can know? In the meantime, we ride our bikes, both mechanized and not, and enjoy getting around our growing campus when we need to.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This is Why I Teach Middle School

Though this year has been challenging in many ways, typical of starting a school, there are, of course, tremendously positive things that have happened as well. I have seen students who could not read well, complete entire books in English and feel proud; students who could barely say hello in English can now struggle through a conversation and read simple books; students are doing homework, writing essays, passing math tests, learning to edit their own writing, and discussing literature!

We are studying the Middle Ages in humanities right now. I asked the students to write about what it was like to live during the Middle Ages. One 7th grade student, whose first language is not English, wrote, "Many people usually died during the Middle Ages."

Yesterday, we were talking in that same class about whether students would have wanted to live during that time (no one did), and then we talked about why that was. The conversation moved to how people 500-1000 years from now might view this current time period in which we are living, and students pondered how this country and the world might function without oil. They thought that maybe laptops and iPods would be so obsolete. Finally, we talked about changes that they have seen just in their short 13 years. One boy said, "My parents still have those huge CDs that you have to play with a needle." (Record albums) I told them that in my lifetime, TV has gone from being five or six channels during a limited time of day to what my students experience now - hundreds of stations on at all hours. It was a fascinating conversation, and I realized how much they are able to think and discuss ideas.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Arts at KAUST

At first, the practices were informal, modest, the May concert slated to be for another small gathering made up mostly of friends and colleagues. Then a fellow violinist's brother, a seasoned cellist, arrived from Germany, in part to help us through our Vivaldi solos and the concert, to have been advertised by word of mouth and taken place in a small venue, was switched to the large cinema cum campus theater. A concert poster began making the campus rounds, and the few students I'd invited grew into the much larger number encouraged to attend by our school's music instructors, one of whom is our string bassist, with his wife the conductor of the community choir, which would nicely fill the second half of the evening's bill.
By 7 pm, concert time, the auditorium was packed, with people waiting in the wings for an available seat and we ten nervously warming up in the back room, hoping we'd get through the five pieces on the program we'd not quite gotten through sans hitch yet. Thousands of miles from where each of us had originally fallen in love with classical music, here we were, about to play to members of an audience, many of whom had never been to a classical concert before let alone attended an evening event where men and women were able to sit freely together.
Again, the orchestral and choral offerings had to be sandwiched between the two evening prayer times, leaving us a bit less than 90 minutes to perform everything, with a stage change added in for good measure.
In the end, I tried not to look beyond the bright lights of the stage to the large audience beyond and instead just focused, like my musical peers, on creating good music that those assembled might enjoy. Personally, it was a bit of an epiphany. I'd never been much of a soloist in younger years (having always been surrounded by other musicians, many much more gifted than I, especially during Interlochen summers). Yet here I was, playing beautifully composed music with new friends and trying to stay reasonably poised, especially through a couple of solos, in a hall that had never held a music concert and on land that could not have anticipated the huge changes about to come to it just five years ago.
By all accounts, the evening was a wonderful success, and further indication that the arts are alive and well at KAUST and that there is enough of a number among the provosts, researchers, professors, graduate and high school students, teachers, accompanying spouses, and even visiting family members who not only like to make music together but apparently even like performing in public on occasion, especially if it brings the community together, which this evening most certainly did.
After our first-half gig, we ten got to sit back and relax together and enjoy the impressive performance of our community choir, which sang songs in French, English, Swahili, Japanese, and Spanish and was accompanied ably in one of their songs by two brand-new percussionists who happen to be two Arabic-speaking high school boys from our school. Sensational!
Two nights later, the four Evanses attended the first KAUST Talent Show, again awed by the wide-ranging abilities of many on campus. Original poetry in English and Arabic, Tai Chi, fashion, classical and pop music, dance, comedy, classical Indian violin - it would be hard to beat the diversity of talents we were happily exposed to on Wednesday!
So, KAUST continues to define itself each month in ways new and inspiring. Those hours of violin practicing as a kid are having certainly unanticipated outcomes, that's for sure. Given that this week has also included Mother's Day, I hope it's not too late to thank my mother for making me practice after school each day after school in elementary and junior high. I may have given up the violin for running at 14, but music, rather like riding a bike, once embedded in the heart never leaves you. Thank goodness since I like to do both, though not generally together!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, May 7, 2010

Beach Day

This weekend was been glorious, as usual! Logan and Jennifer enjoyed time at the pool on Thursday, David and Hayden went to the cinema to see "The Blind Side" (great film!), and we all benefited from homemade pizza at friends' house. Some friends brought a carpet salesman from Afghanistan to their home on Wednesday night; he and his son took time to explain the various carpets, styles, and colors to the many KAUST residents who were curious and/or wanted to purchase. The Afghan carpets are truly rich in color and fine in their wool textures. We chose a small one in deep reds which we both loved. There was a waterpark set up Thursday afternoon, with bouncy houses and water slides. Friday we went to the beach where we swam, kayaked, and played some football. The beach water is getting warmer, not surprisingly, and the Red Sea is crystal clear blue.

The beach is so nice. It's been all cleaned up, and barges of sand from somewhere along the coast south of Jeddah have been brought in to create a beautiful sandy beach. We can swim, windsurf, kayak, and enjoy the sunshine. It's quite lovely. I was excited that Hayden wanted to try kayaking and was enjoying the easy maneuverability of the single kayak. Although Hayden is learning golf and badminton, kayaking might the best option for when we ultimately return to Seattle.

School for the kids ends on June 16, but we have meetings and work for the week following that. We have hired a lovely Filipina woman, named Princess (!), to look after Logan after school and to be with both boys during that third week in June when we will be working yet they don't have school. We are all starting to get excited about the end of school. Only five weeks of classes to go. Students and teachers alike are feeling that itch of 'the end of the school year.' The students will have to give up their school-issued laptops, which for some will feel like a huge void in their free-time/game-playing. Some kids have really benefited from the laptop program, but many have been increasingly pulled into time-wasting (in my opinion) games and YouTube sites. It would not be so frustrating except for the kids who are most playing games are often the same ones who repeatedly don't complete homework and who truthfully NEVER read! You gotta wonder ...

More soon. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

KAUST Activities

Greetings all,
Please excuse our lapse in blog entries. School, work, and life takes over, and we find that we are out of time at the end of the day to write about our lives. We have been busy with school - teaching, planning,
assessing, tutoring, planning, teaching, meeting ... you get the idea.

A week ago we were fortunate to attend Hayden's and Logan's student-led conferences. Hayden showed us many writing pieces he has done and read two pieces to us aloud - one was a story about a day with friends in Seattle and one was imagining himself on an Olympic bobsled team with a teammate named Britt. He showed us his skills on his class laptop, showed us an online math game that he uses frequently, reflected maturely and proudly on his achievements and where he is heading, and talked confidently about his progress. He was clearly so well-prepared to share his work with us.

Logan showed us all of his work, too. Equally well-prepared and confident, he talked about his many art pieces, what techniques he had used, what he had tried to make, and what he had learned. He also seemed so proud of his work and efforts. In my earlier days of teaching (before I had children), I had not understood the value really of student-led conferences, but after experiencing our kids' talking about their learning and growth, I realized how empowering it can be when the kids are prepared well. Thank you to our kids' teachers!

We recently bought a ping-pong table and have it set up in our garage so that kids can come and play together. Hayden has been enjoying it quite a lot.

We have been asked about photos of our campus, so we will post some here. The main campus mosque is truly stunningly beautiful! One photo is our house with the garage door up. Our house is a three bedroom-townhouse between two others. Our neighbors on both sides have kids Logan's age, plus one family has a toddler son who adores Hayden, and the other family has a son just a year younger than Hayden.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Afghani Souk

Over the weekend, some friends and I rented a small bus whose driver took us to the Afghani souk in Jeddah. I had read about the amazing sights and items to buy there and had been intrigued for some time about this. The Jeddah magazine claimed that we would enjoy a "blissful shopping experience." Skeptical but interested, we headed out on Thursday afternoon. The driver eventually found the location we wanted and all eight of us women, fully covered with our black abayas (which cover the body but not head or face), disembarked from the bus to the stares of many.

We started down the small street, stepping over piles of concrete and rocks, around prowling cats searching for meals, and away from small bare-foot boys playing soccer. A short distance down the street, an old man motioned us into his shop. The small shop's walls were completely covered with carpets of all types. Some were red wool with bold patterns; others were soft silk with blues and greens in intricate patterns. One told a story in pictures of Soviet tanks entering Kabul. Another carpet, in yellows and whites, represented the Holy door of the sacred Kaaba stone from the Grand Mosque in Mecca. We began looking through the carpets, getting assistance from three young Afghan men with pale skin and reddish hair. They explained the various qualities of carpets, the types of wool or silk, locations made, and the patterns in each. Prayer time was called by the mosque singing but we were able to stay inside, talking about carpets, with all doors closed. Some purchases were made by our group and many photos taken.

About an hour or so later, we headed further down the street and were welcomed into another shop, again by an old Afghan man who spoke English well. He quickly flipped on some inadequate air conditioners and proceeded to engage us in conversation. I showed him the small local magazine I was clutching and explained that we came to this district because of the article and photos. He was so amazed to see photos of his shop in the magazine. He kept pointing out where various photos had been taken in his shop. I was interested in one red wool carpet, large enough to fit nicely in our bare entry way. He flipped the carpets on top onto the floor and pulled the one I liked out for me to look at in better light. The elder shop owner explained that it was a marriage pattern, and I said I was already married. He laughed and made a joke about my evening at home should I end up buying the carpet. He told me the price was 1200 Saudi riyals. I said that I really liked it but that I didn't have that much. He asked how much I would pay. I said I had about 750. I took out my wallet and took out all of my remaining cash. I had 770 Saudi riyals. He took the money, counted it out, handed me back 20 riyals, and rolled up the carpet with a wink. He brought out tea and almonds and we all sat on huge stacks of carpets drinking tea and talking to him about where we were from. I told him that my parents-in-law had been to Kabul, where he was from, and that they had seen the ancient statues at Bamiyan (which have since been destroyed by the Taliban). After the tea, several others in our group negotiated for carpets big and small. We spent easily one and a half hours in the shop, chatting about family, bargaining for carpets, drinking tea, and admiring his products. It was truly a 'blissful shopping experience.' The shop owner was kind and friendly, willing to negotiate, chat, and offer up smiles and laughter.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Music at KAUST hits a high note!

What do a 14-person gamelan orchestra made up of Indonesian grad students, a couple playing an apparently well-known Chinese violin double concerto, and sundry classical chamber groups all have in common? They were all wonderful participants in KAUST's first community-wide music concert, an event heard earlier this week by about 250 grateful and impressed campus residents, many of whom, by the end of the evening, suddenly realized that there is more than ample musical talent right here on campus, thank you!
In fact, the gamelan group played a beautiful rendition of Edelweiss, giving The Sound of Music (my favorite movie of all time) a special spin, while the classical groups, many accompanied by one of the apparently very few pianos on campus, had to withstand notes from an instrument that could easily have benefitted from the attention of the piano tuner who never showed. Oh well. Beware of pianos needing to be moved just before concerts...
The concert was slated to begin at 6:45, after prayer time, and had to be over by 8:20, well before the next prayer time. Indeed, if you're one of those who's worried about attending concerts that drag on and on, then an evening concert in Saudi Arabia could be the answer to your problems :).
More concerts are being planned, one of which your humble author will be performing in next month. Now that the ice has been broken, musicians are literally coming out of the woodwork. A mother whom we'd chatted briefly with at the beach only last weekend, revealed to a clarinet-playing colleague who had just performed that she is a flutist with PhD in musical performance! The next day I saw another colleague, our school counselor, walking out of his office and toward the music room toting a violin, which I'd never seen him carry.
I'm beginning to get the feeling that we're actually part of a large music conservatory! Maybe we've been misinformed all this time and this is really King Abdullah University of Strings and Troubadours?!

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frustration and then Cookies

If yesterday for me was a real low point, today has been a high point. Yesterday I was frustrated and disappointed by students who didn't care, who didn't take learning seriously, and who taunted each other through Facebook (certainly a questionable development in the lives of human adolescents!). After work I discovered that our replacement credit cards had been sent to a US address and then replacements for those were not a day or two away but 2-4 weeks away. The USAA credit card representative unfortunately had to bear the brunt of my fairly challenging day. Finally, burned popcorn for a family movie night triggered a smoke/fire alarm that can only be shut off by the fire department. After several calls and nearly 15 minutes of waiting outside, they arrived in the fire truck, typed in a code, and silence finally ensued.

Today, however, was a new day. I attended one of the best yoga classes ever with an instructor from India. Though not permitted to teach co-ed classes, he has been permitted to teach a female class, which is widely popular because he's so good. I left class feeling somewhat rejuvenated. In the afternoon, the boys each competed in their first-ever swimming races and each performed well considering it was their first. They may have been disappointed not to win, but having never trained before, they swam remarkably.

Finally, we enjoyed a wonderful home dinner and then ... cookie-making for David's birthday at the beach tomorrow. Making cookies with kids must be, if you are in the mood, one of the funniest endeavors. Hayden, ever eager to help with cooking and baking, grabbed the eggs to break into the bowl. He kept trying one egg over and over, until finally David said, "Hey, that egg is hardboiled." Next try, the egg broke all over the counter without one drop going into the bowl. The next two were successfully added to the batter. I had to do a continual dance in the kitchen trying to keep the boys' fingers from the batter. Remember being young and thinking, "When I am a grown-up, I am going to make a batch of batter and eat it all?" I thought that. I never did it, but tonight I remembered wanting to. The cookies are done, a few less than anticipated, but no real loss. Many laughs and good memories instead.

Now ... for the writing of progress reports. Sigh.

Thanks for reading. Jennifer